Android. Linux. Mozilla Firefox. All three started out as open source projects, which offer a unique opportunity for programmers to hone their skills and gain experience collaborating with others on software development. But for beginning programmers, open source projects can seem daunting. That’s why we’ve put together a guide that shows you how to find open source projects and start contributing to them.
Getting Involved in Open Source Projects
The experience that you’ll gain through working on an open source project is invaluable,” web developer and entrepreneur Matt West writes. “I can’t stress enough how important this is, especially if you’re a student or just starting out in the industry.”
For your first project, pick software that you use on a daily basis. When you discover bugs or think of ways to improve the product, you’ve found an open source project for you. “A project you already use is going to give you the most motivation and you won’t have a learning curve trying to figure it out,” open source expert Andy Lester says.
You can also visit GitHub. This web-based repository hosts more than 38 million projects and has more than 15 million users. The wide variety of open source projects means you can find an interesting project that’s solving worthwhile problems.
How to Contribute to Open Source Projects
Once you select a project, you can begin making contributions. Lester makes the following suggestions.
- Report a bug: Find something wrong with the software as you use it and report it. To be the most helpful, take the time to do a good report describing the bug.
- Verify a reported bug: Check out the project’s bug tracking system and confirm a bug that someone else has reported. Seek to narrow down the cause of the problem.
- Write documentation: The documentation is the roadmap of the open source project. If you use the software for a while, you can come up with examples for the documentation easily.
- Edit the wiki: If the project has a wiki, it might be easier to edit that than the documentation. Making a few changes to clarify information can go a long way toward helping other users.
- Answer a question: Once you gain a grasp of the project, you should take the time to help newcomers who were once in your position. Stack Overflow is the best place to do this.
- Talk about it: Whether it’s giving a talk at a user group meeting or blogging about problems you’ve solved, it’s important to record your experience working on the project. This “adds to the body of knowledge of the project,” Lester says.
Examples of Open Source Projects
Billed as a “Slack-compatible, not Slack-limited” messaging client, Mattermost seeks to take the best features of Slack’s platform and expand on them. The application is ripe with possible application integration and is supported by a vibrant community. With the ability to run as a Linux binary, Docker image and other forms, Mattermost is easy to install, manage and upgrade.
One of the best examples of how open source development is improving people’s health, Glucosio is creating open source apps for diabetes management and research. The open source nature of the apps allows doctors and researchers to gain tremendous amounts of data about diabetes in the hopes of making life better for those with the disease.
Benefits of Open Source Projects
Open source projects encourage beginning programmers to learn by doing. And there’s no cost: Working on open source projects will never cost you anything more than your time and talent. In addition, open source projects offer flexibility and community.
In open source projects, your level of involvement can vary. If you want to make a small contribution, you can do so. But if you want to become a major force in the project, you can do that as well.
The level of freedom offered by open source development also lets you experiment. You can take an existing piece of open source software and tailor it to your needs. Open source development is an opportunity to create something new and exciting.
Although you may have never met anyone else who is working on an open source project, you can still learn from them. Your submissions to the project will be reviewed by peers, who will give you revisions and suggestions to improve your code. This can help you become a better programmer and give you further insight into how the software should work.
“Open source allows you to make connections far outside your normal circle of friends and co-workers,” Matt West says. The open source community can always teach you something new.
Open Source Rules
The Open Source Initiative has developed a definition that fully outlines the elements of open source projects. To summarize, open source software must include the source code and must permit free redistribution, with no royalties or fees.
Open Source and the Tech Workforce
For newcomers taking their first steps into programming, open source projects can provide valuable learning experiences. If you’re ready to master the skills needed for a career in the tech industry, consider The Software Guild’s coding bootcamp. The Software Guild offers a 12-week full-time program or a nine-month part-time online option. Upon completion, you’ll be prepared for entry-level developer positions. Apply today.
Coding bootcamps such as The Software Guild offer an outcomes-focused, intensive learning environment for those interested in programming careers.